Monthly Archives: April 2012

How do you find a good professional mentor?

Some rights reserved by Peter Guthrie

Tonight, my post is really more of a question: How do you find a good professional mentor?

The importance of mentors for one’s professional growth and guidance has been emphasized to me repeatedly over the years but recently the reminders have been even more prevalent. With the ending of my master’s program and the beginning of the next phase in my career, I have been attending a number of professional networking events, including a recent conference at American University. Like the other events I have attended, the Women in Business Conference reiterated the value of having a mentor but when I sat down at the “mentoring” table during lunch, there were no clear answers about how to find a mentor. I heard warnings about the political and professional complications that can arise from having a mentor in your workplace (e.g., a boss or colleague) and I heard the age old advice of reaching out to everyone you possibly can to connect with potential future mentors. I also heard comments about the added-value of mentors for women and young professionals. I’m curious to learn if there is research behind those ideas but I’m even more curious to discover why mentoring can be such a “hot topic” at networking events yet rarely have any clear actions steps associated with it. I have discovered that finding a mentor is not as easy as simply contacting as many people as you can or crossing your fingers and hoping that one will magically appear (I’ve tried).

Given the crossroads I am currently at professionally (i.e., selecting a career path to build upon my new master’s degree, one that ideally combines some or all of my interests in early childhood education, global education, and educational technology) it seems like the perfect time to search for a professional mentor. It would be amazing to have guidance about various professional paths, such as working as an independent consultant versus a full-time employee, or to to learn more about the best ways to find a career that will allow me to continue to grow professionally. I’m interested to hear another person’s professional perspective about each of the career fields I am exploring and the ideal way to set myself up to achieve my professional goals.

So with all of those questions in mind, I ultimately come back to the first question, how do you find a good professional mentor? I’d love to hear others’ ideas and experiences with answering this question!

Digital Spaces Are Like Virtual Silly Putty

By slworking2

Digital spaces seem to me a bit like virtual silly putty. You can mold and shape them in almost any way you want, you can copy and recreate them in the same way I used to imprint newspaper clips on the putty, and you can take the same space and use it over and over in different ways. All of this flexibility make digital spaces exciting, fluid, and responsive. It can also make it challenging to decide which digital space is the right one for your project or goal.

I have been doing work with a variety of digital spaces recently and I wanted to write about the pros and cons I see in each and solicit feedback from others about ways they have used these spaces so that I can envision new ways to shape my silly putty. Given the vastness of the Internet and the digital spaces it houses, I’ll only discuss three main types of spaces in this post: wikis, blogs, and social media.

Wikis

It seems only fitting to use Wikipedia’s definition of a wiki, which is “a website whose users can add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor.” I feel like there was a big push to use wikis a few years ago which has faded a bit as other digital spaces have come onto the scene, such as social media platforms. Yet, I think wikis are an underutilized space because of their collaborative functionality. Although tools like Google Apps can allow for real-time collaboration, having an entire web space with widget functionality and custom formatting that you can find in platforms like wikispaces or PBworks, provides a richer space for group work. As an educator, there are additional advantages, since you can create a free, “plus” account on sites like wikispaces so that you can keep your site private to protect student data and work. Wikis also allow multiple parties, across multiple time zones and continents, to be able to contribute to site. They can create pages, add resources, and share projects in a way that can be challenging in other digital spaces due to the various permissions needed to have multiple editors or authors. The ability to review and compare  your history on a wiki and revert back to an older version is also something that is not available in other digital spaces such as social media platforms.

The downside of a wiki is that it takes a lot of maintenance to keep it updated and relevant, which can get confusing when you have multiple authors/editors and it can be time-consuming to construct the initial frame and organization of the space. The lack of real-time collaboration functionality can also be a challenge if you are using the space for a conference or specific class session(s). Finally, there are limited social commenting options with a wiki. To provide feedback or comment on a page, most wikis require you to first join and that extra step does not foster the same type of social sharing and dialogue that is facilitated by social media spaces or blogs.

Blogs

Blogging platforms are a great digital space for publicizing your ideas, sharing your work, and documenting your (class) activities. Blogs also facilitate discussion through the comments functionality, where frequent and first-time visitors can review a post and add their own perspectives or ask follow-up questions. Platforms like WordPress add more flexibility to blogging spaces, allowing them to be used as entire websites with static pages in addition to revolving blog posts. This option can allow you to share resources and present information that does not need to be updated as frequently as a blog while still having the commenting functionality to interact with visitors. The ability to add widgets or plugins to blogs make them interactive and engaging, allowing you to do things like interweave your social media spaces into your blogging space.

Although you can have multiple editors of a blog or guest posts, blogging spaces are usually less collaborative and more one-way in terms of creation and distribution. Similar to wikis, blogs require a lot of maintenance and as I discussed previously, “fresh” content if you are looking to increase your SEO. Blog spaces seem more ideal for single or small groups of people as compared to large groups who are coming together to work on a project or share resources. Blogging platforms also do not allow for real-time updates or collaboration.

Social Media

Social media spaces are growing quickly. They include spaces like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and more recently, Pinterest. These digital spaces allow for a variety of publication options, including sharing personal stories and updates, new articles, professional opportunities, and work-related news. There is an interesting intermixing of professional and personal stories within and across these spaces that I have not typically seen within one wiki or blog. Social media spaces allow for real-time updates, networking, and professional development twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is constant change occurring in these spaces as new people join, posts are updated, and people share new content. The focus is often tied to specific chats, topical discussions, current events, and at times, marketing and promotion. Within the education community, these spaces are an amazing demonstration of the collaboration and exchange that can occur among educators around the world. Social media accounts also are usually singular, meaning that they are owned and managed by one person, unless they are for a business, in which case there might be multiple administrators of one account. This decreases the collaboration within an account but does not affect the sharing that can occur within the larger social media space (e.g., on Twitter).

Unfortunately, the speed of change within social media spaces can at times be a challenge, as it can be difficult to keep up with the barrage of new stories and updates. Additionally, most of these spaces are shared in some way with various audiences, and some, like Twitter, are often completely private or public, without much of an in-between. This can raise more privacy concerns that other digital spaces where you might be able to make some pages pubic and others private. The rate of change also makes it difficult to create and publish static content, either alone or in a group, that you want to remain in one space on the Internet.

I’m sure there are many more details about the functionality of these sites that I haven’t covered but this at least serves as a general outline of how the silly putty often works when it is shaped as a wiki, blog, or social media space. I would love to hear when other people have used these spaces and why they chose them for their specific projects or goals. How do you decide which shape you want your silly putty to take? Is there a right and wrong way, depending on the goals you want to achieve?

Looking to be a Change Agent? Find Your Community.

A "Collective Picture of Progress" created by people who drew a picture of themselves creating social change.

Creating change is hard.

Convincing people, especially those in power, that the change you are making is meaningful and beneficial, can be even harder.

On a daily basis, I work to bridge three different disciplines: early childhood education, global education, and educational technology. While I see clear intersections and connections between these three fields, I have come to understand that not everyone feels similarly. In fact, at points I have encountered strong opposition to merging any two of those fields together (e.g., early childhood and educational technology or global education and educational technology), let alone all three. I have heard comments that educational technologies, even when used in developmentally appropriate ways, do not belong in the classroom because young children cannot understand them and should be focused on basic skills instead. I have been told that digital formats are not as valid for presenting academic and professional resources and that young children do not need to be socializing or engaging with world citizens (through technology) because that can come later in life.

Given my Reggio-inspired, global lens to (early childhood) education, many of these comments concern me. I believe even very young children are capable of meaningful and deep reflection that can then be expressed in various mediums, including technology. I also feel that our world is becomingly increasingly connected across the globe and therefore it is advisable that as educators we expose young children to different cultures and ways of thinking about the world and provide opportunities for them to connect with other world citizens. And clearly, given the recent launch of my new website for early childhood educators, I believe that digital mediums can be a meaningful and practical way to present resources and ideas in an open and collaborative format.

These beliefs motivate me to continue to push the existing boundaries of the three fields I am passionate about and to work to join them together. Yet, in the face of opposition, I can at times become discouraged or overwhelmed. This is why I feel privileged to be part of such a supportive and amazing community, the education community. These people, whether we interact face-to-face or online, support my interests in #globalearlyedtech (and yes, I believe that’s the trifecta of hashtags!) and they provide encouragement when others discourage or question my work. They were the people who responded via LinkedIn, Twitter, email, and word-of-mouth when I reached out asking for people to take and share a survey for my master’s Capstone research. They were the people who reviewed my website, providing comments, suggestions, edits, and ideas. They are the people I know I can turn to when I want to brainstorm or make meaning of an educational concept and they push me to think more deeply, questioning existing practices so I can create innovative products.

This is a community that will provide encouragement and celebrate with me when I engage in educational projects:

@hechternacht tweeted: @donnaroman @SherriWyllie @iEARNUSA Definitely an incredible #ece resource!! Congratulations to @mpowers3 #kinderchat

It’s a community that will remind me to persevere when it seems impossible to create the change I’m hoping for by integrating #globalearlyedtech into the philosophies that educator’s and academic’s believe and teach:

@Matt_Gomez  tweeted: @mpowers3 reach others slowly, by never giving up and sharing the value. You never know what will be the tool/idea that works #ecetechchat

It’s a community that helps me to build new connections and reach out to new organizations so that I can share and learn with them:

@iEARNUSA tweeted: @ConnectStateGov #FF to @mpowers3 for new #ECE #GlobalEd resource site: bit.ly/H4I9xp #Exchange20

As @VickiEhlers tweeted “Share, share, share. And acknowledge the value of the what has been shared in a public way. Nurture relationships first! #ecetechchat

The relationships I have formed with the education community, a group I define as collaborative, inspiring, supportive, thought-provoking, and dedicated, provide the mental and emotional energy I need to create change. I have been inspired and honored by how many people have reached out to me through my new website and I cannot wait to collaborate and share with them, to learn from their ideas, and to build new meaningful relationships as I continue to expand my connections to the education community. I hope you’ll join me there!